Archery Laws of England - a commentary

from: Clive D.W. Feather   | Regulation Officer, LINX | Work: <>

   Many times we have seen the assertion that "all men in England are required to practice their archery every Sunday" or such like.  Responding to an anonymous tip off, I proceeded in an orderly manner to the Squire Law Library in Cambridge.  Following the ritual payment of two-fifty for a magic card to work the photocopier, I copied some pages of Statutes at Large and of the Chronological Index to the Statutes.  And now here are my findings.  Text in green is taken directly from the Statutes at Large, with spelling, capitalisation, and punctuation unchanged (but using s for both the short and long form s of the time).  Text in [brackets] is written by the editor of Statutes at Large; [...] indicates I have deleted irrelevant text.  My comments are in blue.

Anno tertio HENRICI VIII. (A.D. 1511-12.)
STATUTES made in the Parliament begun and holden at Westminster on Wednesday the Fourth Day of February, in the Third Year of the Reign of King HENRY VIII. [...]
CAP. III An Act concerning Shooting in Long Bows.
"ALL Sorts of Men under the Age of Forty Years shall have Bows and Arrows, and use Shooting; certain Persons excepted", &c. Unlawful Games "shall not be used."
[Made perpetual by st.6 H.8.c.2. but repealed, and other Provisions enacted by 33 H.8.c.9.s.17.]

Okay, so from 1511 we are required to have bows and arrows and "use" shooting. But it seems that things changed later in Hal's reign. First, a brief detour to 6 H.8.c.2:

Anno Sexto HENRICI VIII. (A.D. 1514-15.) STATUTES made in the Parliament begun and holden at Westminster, on Monday the Fifth Day of February, in the Sixth Year of the Reign of King HENRY VIII. [...]
CAP. II Act for Maintenance of Archery. "THE Statute 3 H.8.c.3. concerning Maintenance of Archery, confirmed, "and made perpetual."
[But repealed by 33 H.8.c.9.s 17.]

Okay, so it was made a perpetual law in 1514 (presumably before that it only carried on for some specific length of time). Let's skip forward to the 33rd year of Henry's reign (1541):

CAP. IX. An Act for the Maintenance of Artillery, and debarring unlawful Games. "RECITAL of Stats. 3 H.8.c.3. & 6 H.8.c.2. Several new devised Games the "Cause of the Decay of Archery. - All Men under the Age of sixty Years "shall have Bows and Arrows for shooting. Men-Children between Seven "Years and Seventeen shall have a Bow and 2 Shafts. Men about Seventeen "Years of Age shall keep a Bow and 4 Arrows - Penalty 6s.8d."
S1,2,3. "Shooting at Rovers. Shooting in Yew-bows. The Inhabitants of every Town "shall cut Butts and shoot at them."
S4. "Common Bows shall be made of "Elm, Ash, &c."
S5. Repealed 8 Eliz.c.10.s.6. "The prices of the several "Sorts of Bows."
S6. Repealed 8 El.c.10.s.6. "Sale of Seasonable Timber "by one Fletcher to another."
S7. "Bowyers and Fletchers, &c. not free "of London, shall upon Commandment dwell elsewhere."
S8. "Aliens shall "not convey Bows or Arrows beyond the Sea."
S9. "Aliens shall not use "shooting in Long-bows; Penalty forfeiture of Bows."

It appears to me that this is simply repeating the previous Act, or at least giving a precis. The fact that certain sections were repealed by Queen Elizabeth implies they were in force until then. This Act has lots more sections, though:

XI. Be it also be enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That no Manner of Person or Persons, of what Degree, Quality or Condition soever he or they be, from the Feast of the Nativity of St. John Baptist now next coming, by himself Factor Deputy Servant or other Person, shall for his or their Gain Lucre or Living keep have hold occupy exercise or maintain any Common House Alley or Place of bowling coyting clothe-cayles, half bowl, tennis, dicing table or carding or any other Manner of Game prohibited by any Estatute heretofore made, or any unlawful new Game now invented or made, or any other new unlawful Fame hereinafter to be invented found had or made, upon Pain to forfeit and pay for every Day keeping having or maintaining or suffering any such Game to be had kept executed played or maintained within any such House Garden Alley or other Place contrary to the Form and Effect of this Estature, Forty Shillings; And also every Person using and haunting any of the said Houses and Plays and there playing to forfeit for every Time so doing, Six Shillings Eight-pence.

I refuse to type in the whole thing, but:

13: you can get a "Placard" (a Gaming Licence) in exchange for a sufficiently large deposit in Chancery.
14: magistrates can enter houses to look for unlawful games, and bind people over or imprison them until they have found sureties.
15: mayors and sheriffs to do a weekly - or at least monthly - check of all places that unlawful games are suspected.
16: the working class may not play such games except at Christmas, with a 20 shilling fine, and no-one can play bowls outside their own garden, with a 6/8 fine

XVII. Be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That all other Statutes made for the Restraint of unlawful Games, or for the Maintenance of Artillery, as touching the Penalties or Forfeitures of the same, shall be from henceforth utterly void: And that all Informations Plaints Actions or Suits that shall be taken or sued upon any Part of this Statute, shall be commenced within the Year after the Offence committed and done, or otherwise no Advantage or Suit thereof to be taken:

Hmm.  I don't know whether or not this repeals 3 H.8.c.3 or not.  Any comments from the readers?  Anyway, more from the statute.

Section 18 says who gets the fine (half to the informer, half to the local lord of any "Franchise, Leet or Lawday" if any, otherwise the crown).
19: mayors and sheriffs must proclaim this Act quarterly.

Sections 22 and 23 allows masters to license their servants to play games with them, or with each other, or with visitors. Finally:

"Saving for Suits depending upon any Statute hereby repealed."

So, there definitely *was* a law requiring people to practice archery.  I *think* that 33 H.8.c.9 simply confirmed it, and did not repeal it.  Now we turn to the Chronological Index.  This shows that 3 H.8.c.3 was repealed by the Statute Law Revision Act (26 & 27 Vict.c.125) [this was a law to tidy up and remove a whole range of obsolete laws].  I presume, but am not certain, that this also repealed sections 1 to 4 and 7 to 10 of 33 H.8.c.9.  The whole of the latter was repealed by the Betting and Gaming Act (1960 c.60).

So: F The law requires all Englishmen to practice archery. T It did so once upon a time. Tb It stopped doing so in 1863. T It definitely stopped doing so in 1960.

-- Ex Tenebra, Lux
Thanks to Nigel FitzMaurice for providing this information.